The Osa Peninsula: Conservation in Action | Field Projects International

The Osa Peninsula: Conservation in Action

Course Description

The Osa Peninsula is one of the last pristine rainforest areas in Costa Rica, and an ideal location to learn best methods in field research and conservation. Approximately 50% of the course is devoted to hands-on teaching of practical field skills, 30% to learning about local threats to biodiversity and observing conservation initiatives in action, and 20% to developing an independent project that teaches participants how to pitch a conservation program grounded in research.

Participants spend the majority of their time in the field, learning by doing, taking full advantage of the amazing diversity that surrounds them. Evenings consist of downtime, short lectures, and discussions of select articles. A primary goal of this field course is to impart skills that will benefit participants in any natural environment they choose to work. As such, in theory this course could be taught anywhere, but it shouldn’t be. The Osa Peninsula covers < .0001% of the earth’s surface, and yet it contains an estimated 2.5% of the biodiversity of the world. Osa was once an island in the Pacific that eventually merged with mainland Costa Rica around 2 million years ago, which is the reason for ~323 species of plants and vertebrates that occur nowhere else in the world. At the same time, Costa Rica is an ecotourism hotspot for the entire world. Tourism is by far the countries greatest economic sector and source of capital, and there are few holdouts of undisturbed forest left. During this course students will learn how local activism takes place from start to finish and is directly responsible for protecting pristine habitat like the Osa Peninsula. You will also have a chance to contribute to the broader discussion on how to put information in the hands of the people that matter.

Course Details

  • Highlights
  • Topics
  • Faculty
  • Eligibility
  • Documents
  • Food & Lodging
  • Travel
  • Program Costs & Student Aid

During this course you will:

  • Contribute to a long-term sea turtle conservation program and tropical plant reforestation effort
  • Learn to enter, traverse, and exit the rainforest safely with a GPS and compass, essential survival skills for an aspiring field biologist
  • Collect and manipulate spatial data, creating your own map of the station  and records of where you have been and what you have documented throughout the course
  • Gain proficiency in plant and insect identification, the two most challenging taxonomic groups for field biologists
  • Find and follow wild primate troupes, characterizing the extent of their home range and collecting precious biological samples that can be used for downstream DNA, hormone, dietary, parasite analyses
  • Try your hand at using radio telemetry to track wild animals, the same technology that is used all over the world to learn where large cats, bears, wolves, tapirs, birds, snakes, etc., are spending their time.
  • Craft a conservation program from scratch and learn to pitch it to different stakeholders.

We aspire for all participants who complete FPI field course to be prepared and able to conduct future research and/or conservation activities on their own or as part of a team. As such, there are fundamental skills and standards that we expect all participants to achieve with us. These include:

  • Maintenance of an organized field notebook
  • Forest navigation and orienteering whether on or off trail
  • Animal tracking
  • Documenting animal behavior
  • Maintaining a wildlife sightings list and performing species identifications

Instruction related to the specific focus of this course will include:

  • Animal censusing and monitoring techniques
  • Plant and insect taxonomy and natural history
  • Examples of animal-plant inter-dependencies
  • Grassroots biodiversity conservation

Miguel Chaves  grew up in a small high altitude valley named Santa María de Dota, where he spent his childhood between coffee plantations and forest. A deep admiration for nature since a young led him to study Tropical Biology at Universidad Nacional (UNA). After that, he worked for the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) for almost three years where he was part of several research projects and now he pursues a Ph.D. in Biology-Ecology, Evolution and Systematics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In terms of research, he has worked on taxonomy of tropical plants (including ferns!), restoration ecology and now plant-insect interactions.

Read his full bio here.

Gideon Erkenswick co-founded Primates Peru Inc. in 2009 which later evolved into Field Projects International. Cumulatively, he has spent 8 years working in the Neotropics leading research programs in primate behavior, disease ecology, and mark and recapture, and for the past 4 years he has also taught field courses in general tropical biology and primate behavior. Between 2011 and 2017 he completed a doctorate in biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) that focused on parasite-host relationships from a diverse community of nonhuman primates.  At UMSL he also acquired formal classroom teaching experience in anatomy and physiology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, evolution, and organismal biology. In addition to his role as a Senior Research Scientists for FPI he continues in the UMSL Biology Department as a post-doctoral researcher.

Visit profile here.

Mrinalini (Mini) Watsa began a love affair with the rainforest in the backyard of her home in India, virtually over run with cobras, chameleons and even jackals. She went from being an animal-obsessed teen to a graduate student in biological anthropology, a natural enough trajectory. She spent her first summer “abroad” in Costa Rica’s pristine Osa Peninsula.  Less than a year after the experience, she began to plan an extended field stay on tamarin biology and by sheer chance stumbled upon the stunning Los Amigos Field Station in Perú.  She spent ten exhilarating months at the site, researching tamarin development and reproductive behaviours. Today, she splits her time between being a Visiting Assistant Professor in physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, where she manages the Primate Molecular Ecology Laboratory, and and instructing courses on tropical field biology through Field Projects International.  

Visit profile here.

There are a few simple requirements to determine eligibility for this course:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the course.
  • You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.
  • We have no citizenship requirements. Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas independently if necessary.
  • You do not need any training in biology – our course is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Courses have a maximum capacity of 12 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many spots we have left.

  • Course readings: Please download the readings list HERE. These are to be read before the course to serve as a basis of discussion and debate. Files will be emailed to course attendees one month before the course start date.
  • Download the Syllabus: HERE
  • Download our Student Policy Manual: HERE
  • Download our Zero-Tolerance Policy on Sexual and Gender-based Misconduct: HERE

Traditional Costa Rican meals will be available throughout the course, freshly cooked with fresh ingredients. The exact menu will vary depending on availability of ingredients at the site.

Food staples include rice, beans (black and red), plantain, eggs, hand-made corn tortilla, and a variety of delicious fruits including guanabana, guava, cherimoya, mango, pineapple, papaya, and banana. A protein, meat, or fish option is almost always a part of lunch and dinner.

Except for one night during travel to Piro BioStation participants will be staying in one of several cabins on site. Each cabin has 3 spacious, rustic bedrooms with capacity for 4 individuals per room. Bedrooms are furnished with 2 bunk-beds, dressers, shelves, outlets and mosquito nets. Towels and sheets are provided. Hand-wash laundry facilities are provided with outdoor lines for clothes drying.

International Air Travel: One can fly to Costa Rica on a number of international airline carriers. With advance notice, it is possible to book a roundtrip ticket from Chicago or Washington D.C., USA, to San José, Costa Rica, for less than $500 USD, but these prices will vary depending on your origin.  As with any other location, delaying booking a flight will increase your travel prices. If you’re coming from the North or South America you will have no issues with jet lag, but from Europe, Australia or Asia you should be prepared for a transition period.

We recommend using Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to book your flights online. Please do not book flights until October 1 for this course. Please make sure your international flight arrives with enough time to allow you to catch your domestic flight from San José to Puerto Jiménez.

Domestic Air Travel: The course will be held from December 11th to the 23rd, 2017. This means that you should plan to arrive in Puerto Jiménez on either of the following flights on December 11th only: Nature Air 126 departing at 9:25 am and arriving at 10:05 am or Nature Air 140 departing at 1:00 pm and arriving at 1:40 pm. We will then leave as a course by car for the Piro BioStation. 

Your return flight should depart from Puerto Jiménez on on December 23rd, 2017 on either of these two flights ONLY: Nature Air 127 departing at 10:15 am or Nature Air 141 departing at 1:50 pm. 

Visas are required for travel to Costa Rica for citizens of some countries. If you are a US or Canadian citizen, or permanent resident, you do not require a visa, but you do need to possess a passport with validity for at least 6-months upon arrival in Costa Rica, and a return ticket to exit Costa Rica. If you are of nationality other than the US or Canada, but you possess a multiple entry visa to the US or Canada, then you do not require a via. Anyone that falls outside of these categories must check whether they require a tourist visa or not. Detailed information is available at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington D.C. website.

Should you need a visa, you will have to apply for it in person and with all the materials indicated by the consulate of your jurisdiction. Note: It is usually a requirement that you have reserved your international travel before you apply for a visa.  Do not wait until the last minute to apply for your visa, in case there are unforeseen complications.

As with all of our courses, a comprehensive travel packet that contains information on when and how to book your travel, visas, vaccinations, and packing tips, will be made available to all students.

This packet is provided to students once they have registered for the course.

The fee for this course is $2500 and includes the following:

  • Food and lodging for the entire course.
  • Travel from Puerto Jiménez to Piro BioStation 
  • Experienced instructors and field equipment.

This course fee does NOT include:

  • International travel to and from San José, Costa Rica.
  • Domestic travel from San José to Puerto Jimenez
  • Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
  • Rubber boots, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are required to take this course).

There are two ways to obtain financial assistance for attending this field course. You may participate in both of these programs simultaneously as follows:

  • Scholarships: This year, we are offering two scholarships to attend this course, one targeting a Costa Rican citizen and the other open to applicants of other nationalities. For the application details please visit our scholarships page.
  • Fundraising: FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowd funding platform for all field course students. You will be able to make your own fundraising page to share with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the fundraising period, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you raise enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised in excess of your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at to set up your fundraising page.

Please read our cancellation policy carefully before applying to a field course:

  • $100 of your deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
  • If you cancel on or before the registration deadline of Monday, November 6th, 2017, we will refund all course fees paid in full (except for the processing fee of $100).
  • If you cancel your reservation by December 1, 2017, you will be refunded 40% of your course fee.
  • Course fees cannot be refunded for cancellations made after December 1, 2017.
  • If FPI has to cancel this course due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to all participants.
  • Early departures from the field course are not entitled to a refund for any reason.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us with your questions!

Course Benefits and Credit

Can I get credit for this course?

There are two ways in which you can obtain credit for this course. First, participants can acquire credit directly from their own universities. You would provide your university with the course syllabus, and the school may decide to accept the instructor’s grade and issue credit for the course. Second, you can sign up for credit as an external student with University College at Washington University in Saint Louis. If you are interested in this second option, please contact us at for further information on this option. 

I'm an international student, so how about course credit for me?

The United States university system runs on credits – typically 2 to 4 per class. A student needs a certain number of credits to eventually graduate with a bachelors’ degree. However, this system has little to no meaning outside the US itself, and thus, when we offer credits, we are primarily targeting those students within the US to whom this is relevant. Course credit is therefore only available to students in the US, or possibly countries like Canada, who can transfer credits from US Universities to their own institutions to apply towards their degrees.

For all other students — and there have been plenty who have attended our courses — you receive many other benefits to taking the course, such as:

  1. A certificate from FPI showing that you attended and completed the course
  2. A detailed report of your performance and your final grade, which you can share with future employers or anyone else in any manner you wish to.

To be perfectly clear: You are not required to sign up for credits in the US university system if you come from a country in which this system is itself not recognized. Furthermore, there is no requirement for US students to take this course for credit either. Course credit is an optional item and will incur credit fees from the university in question.

Is signing up for credit the right thing for me?

Questions to ask yourself before signing up for credit:

1. Will my university accept transfer credits from another university? Please consult your advisor and confirm this before signing up, because this is not the responsibility of either the university or Field Projects International

2. Can I afford to take the course for credit? The credit costs are paid directly to the university while the course fee is paid to FPI. Both will be necessary before you can take the course for credit.

Why else take this course?

Apart from the valuable skills, knowledge, and experience you will acquire, FPI encourages alumni to network, support, and collaborate with each other after the course is done.  In addition, our staff remains available for academic and career advice. Many of our alumni have returned as research assistants, and later even joined us as research collaborators, field team leaders, and instructors.

Apart from specific training that will benefit those going into many fields, our courses also entail pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and being challenging both mentally and physically. Furthermore, this is a chance to visit a remote research station in one of the most bio-diverse regions of the planet, and to learn about the incredible flora and fauna you will see at every turn. 

Preparing to travel to Costa Rica

What should I bring with me?

Download a packing list here. If you have questions, please let us know at
How do I deal with Costa Rican money?

The currency in Costa Rica is the Colón. Roughly 576 CRC = one USD. Changing US dollars in Costa Rica is possible in a bank in San José or Puerto Jiménez, and we recommend that you bring new, high-denomination bills, without any blemishes on them, for a bank to exchange them for you. You can find currency exchanges easily in the airport in San José, or the city itself, but the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card.

Things to consider: Bring two cards (credit and/or debit), in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on your ATM card(s) before you travel. You can use an ATM in San José very easily, and less easily in Puerto Jiménez. ATM charges can apply, including conversion fees, so check with your bank about that. Withdrawing from an ATM is convenient, and prevents you from carrying around a lot of cash, which is always a much safer way to travel.

Traveler’s checks are entirely a thing of the past – just don’t buy them!

You should have some cash on you during the course (~200 USD or 115,300 CRC) for snacks and emergencies. 

What's the lowdown on footwear?

Gumboots (aka wellingtons or muck boots), which are knee-high rubber boots are not mandatory for this course; however, you are free to bring them to hike in if you’d like. Good hiking boots are an excellent alternative. Additionally, opened toed sandals such as these are essential for this course. You will wear this footwear every single day while you are in the forest, so break them in if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.

What kind of luggage should I use?

Pack in something you can carry on your shoulders. Suitcases are not very practical (though people have managed with them). We recommend bringing a big duffel bag, or a backpack with most of your things in it. Try to make it waterproof, or buy some kind of waterproof cover. In the worst case scenario, though, you can put your whole bag in a giant plastic bag to keep it dry. You’ll also need a small daypack for the course to carry smaller items on hikes.

What do I need in the forest?

The most important things you need in the forest that we will NOT be providing are your daypack, a water bottle, insect repellent, rain jacket or poncho, and a pair of binoculars. Additionally, a laptop (not a Chromebook) will be extremely helpful, as will be a digital watch with a repeat timer. Check your packing list for more details. In addition, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (check it in, don’t hand carry – it will get caught), a bandana or hat, and some kind of energy bar as an extra snack.

What about battery-operated equipment?

You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs during the course. This headlamp will be your best friend and is useful since it is hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring one that is bright and that has a red light option, as the red light scares nocturnal animals a lot less. Headlamps will need batteries and we strongly suggest that you bring rechargeable batteries with you.  This means that you must also obtain a small battery charger, but bring a couple of regular batteries as a backup in case of an emergency. If you can’t bring any rechargeables and have to bring regular batteries, please buy energy efficient ones so you use as few as possible, since you will have to take all batteries back with you and recycle them (you cannot leave them at the field sites you will visit). 

Do I need a watch or alarm clock?

Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you.

How do I care for my passport and papers?

Passports are valuable items that you want to protect from mold in the rainforest. The best way to do this is to put them in small ziplock bags and then leave them entirely alone.  Do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets moldy very quickly.

What is the weather like at the field station?

Average temperatures range between 21C (70F) and 27C (81F). Bring a few items of clothing that will keep you warm in cooler conditions as December is one of the coolest months. 

What medications should I bring?

The course does not provide any medications to students. As such, they must bring a small medical kit for minor issues:

  • A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)
  • A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of immodium (to be used in emergencies only)
  • Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice flavoured ones are much nicer than the medical ones)
  • Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections
  • Anti-itch medication: over-the counter lotions are ok
  • Antacids to comfort your stomach
  • Band aids, tweezers
  • An Epi pen if you are allergic to anything at all
  • Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)
  • Any medications you are taking regularly. Please make sure to pack these in your hand baggage and NOT your checked in baggage.

What vaccinations do I need?

You will have to provide proof of a normal vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to Costa Rica, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Hepatitus A, Typhoid and Tetanus. If you have the flu shot for the year, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY. Please follow their recommendations on malaria prophyllaxis, and any other recommended vaccinations. We do not provide medical advice in this regard. Note: Upon entry Costa Rica requires proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccine only if you are traveling from a country with risk of Yellow Fever.

What about health and safety?

Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a brief medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a serious or life-threatening disadvantage.

All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs. We make special references to an alcohol policy in our participation contract – we have a zero tolerance policy at the field station. You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will your supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is a problem on this field course in particular. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.

For specific information on emergency protocols please contact our staff at

Basic Amenities

Do I need to bring linens and towels?

It is always a good idea to travel with a towel, but you do not need to. Both lines and a towel will be provided.
How do I care for electronics in the field?

We strongly encourage you to bring your laptops to the field course, as well as your cell phones. They will come in handy for data entry, entertainment, assignments and for checking email. Due to the intermittent/slow nature of internet in the field, Chromebooks are not recommended.

Electronics have to be treated differently in the rainforest than you would anywhere else. Do not bother to bring a soft sleeve for the laptop with you, because it will suck up moisture from the air and will envelope your laptop in it, which is bad news. We find that simple plastic ziplock bags work better than sports dry bags. We recommend that you purchase at least two ziplock bags that are large enough to fit your computer. You can also purchase silicon gel packages online (Amazon Smile or Jake’s Silica Gel are good places to try, along with local stores like REI). Put a couple of 5 gram packets inside the ziplock with your computer and bring at least 2 more packets with you.

Costa Rica uses the same type of electrical plug as the U.S. Please check here to see which converters you may need to bring. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in while on your trip. If they don’t work at both 110V and 220V, you will need to bring a step down voltage converter.  Also note that you will not find three-pronged sockets in most places, so definitely at least bring a three-to-two prong modifier (such as this) for your electronics.

Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury on these trips. 

Is there internet at the field station?

The field station common areas have Wifi, but it is good to prepare yourself for slower than normal and sometimes intermittent internet signal since you are at a remote location.

Is there phone service at the field station?

Good cellular phone reception is not likely at the field site, though we are constantly suprised at how quickly telecommunication companies expand their network coverage to new areas. In the case of emergencies there is a phone on site that can place calls.

How do I do laundry at the field station?

The field station has self-service hand-wash laundry facilities and clothes drying lines. We recommend that you bring enough clothes to last the entire course, or most of the course so that you might only have to do laundry once.

How do I plan for my arrival in Puerto Jiménez?

When all students on the course have submitted their travel information, we will collate this information and send you an Arrival Packet. This document will let you know if others are traveling on the same flight as you, and provide you with their email addresses so you can get in touch in advance (if you want to).  You will also receive exact instructions on what to do when you land, and an image of your instructors so you can look out for them at the airport. The Arrival packet will also provide you with instructions on what to do if you have been delayed, miss a connecting flight, or if your luggage should go missing. In addition, it will include local contact information for your instructors so that you can get in touch with them if needed to let them know if your travel plans were forced to change for some reason.
Course Information
  • Course Id:2017-18_3
  • Credits:Equivalent to 2 credits
  • Location:PiroBiostation
  • Dates:Dec. 11 - Dec. 23, 2017
  • Duration:2 weeks
  • Deadline:November 6, 2017
  • Language:English
December 11, 2017
Arrive in Puerto Jiménez and travel by car to Piro BioStation

December 11-22, 2017
Course activities at Piro BioStation

December 23, 2017
Fly out of Puerto Jiménez

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